KATMANDU, Nepal – Nepal’s Sherpa community held a prayer service in Katmandu on Monday for Sir Edmund Hillary, who conquered Mount Everest and helped thousands of Sherpas living in its foothills by building schools and hospitals.
Monks chanted religious verses as mourners draped a khada – a sacred scarf used only in special Tibetan Buddhist ceremonies – over a photograph of Hillary and placed flowers around it. They lit incense and butter-fed lamps in the ceremony at the Boudha, an important Buddhist temple in Nepal’s capital.
About 200 people attended the ceremony, many of them weeping as they prayed to Buddha.
“No one has helped the Khumbu (Everest) area or the Sherpas more than Hillary,” said Pasang Lamhu, who runs a small hotel on the route to Everest.
“We all owe the development of the area to this one legendary person,” he said.
“He was a special person who has made an immense contribution to both Sherpas and Nepal. A person like that is born only once, and we are all indebted to him,” said Nowang Kaji, a Sherpa who summited Everest in 2001.
After conquering the world’s tallest peak on May 29, 1953, Hillary returned to Nepal several times and founded the Himalayan Trust, which has built 27 schools, two hospitals and 12 clinics around Mount Everest.
Thousands of people have benefited from the trust’s projects and the Sherpa community reveres Hillary as a result.
Sherpas were mostly yak herders and traders living in the Himalayas until Nepal opened its borders to tourism in 1950. Their stamina and knowledge of the mountains makes them expert guides and porters for foreign mountaineers.
Hillary, a New Zealand beekeeper who became one of the 20th century’s most famous explorers, died Friday of a heart attack at age 88.